Y'all Come to Neon Boots, Where the Two-Steppin' Is (Usually) Easy
We've only just stepped foot in the bar, but have already been invited onto the dance floor a few times. Our two left feet are hesitant to oblige.
"Come on," she coaxes. "She'll hold your drink, I'm sure."
Nancy, the woman standing over us at Neon Boots Dancehall and Saloon (11410 Hempstead Hwy.), grins as we explain our two-step difficulties. She just laughs as she leads us out onto the floor, as we silently hope she knows what she's in for. Our nickname is most assuredly not "Grace."
Luckily Nancy is a regular in this Spring Branch-area LGBT country bar, and knows what she's doing when it comes to country-music dancing. She takes the lead, and tosses us around the dance floor with ease. We even start to feel a wee bit coordinated -- until Nancy tries to pull some fancy moves, that is. She twirls us and we stumble right into another couple, Carl and Rich. It's a good thing the two men are patient with the dancing novices in this place, though. They laugh, help us up and dance away together.
On the other hand, we die of embarrassment right there on the dance floor.
Recently chosen by USA Today as one of Texas' Top 10 dance halls, Neon Boots has probably seen worse moves than ours, though. The spacious venue, originally deemed the Esquire Ballroom, has been hosting country music fans since 1955. The bar is widely touted as the place where Willie Nelson got his start on the path to superstardom. Flat broke and family in tow one day in 1959, he stopped off at the Esquire on his way into Houston to try to sell the house band some of his songs for cash.
The house band refused -- the songs were allegedly "too good" to claim as their own -- but offered Nelson a gig performing six nights a week in the club instead. He took it, and the $50 loan for an apartment, and settled down in Pasadena. The rest is country music history.
Until closing in 1995, the Esquire hosted stars from Merle Haggard and Porter Wagoner to Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, and many more besides. Once Mickey Gilley's honky-tonk got going over in Pasadena in the early '70s, the Esquire stood as its main rival for top country musicians passing through the Houston area.
The Esquire even earned a spot on Broadway. The '80s musical Always...Patsy Cline - which is still playing in New York -- is based around the bar's history with Cline, on the night the "I Fall to Pieces" singer met lifelong friend and eventual fan-club president Louise Seger before a show here and the two talked long after last call.
Story continues on the next page.